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Title: Millenium hall : Sarah Scott's valuable contribution to the proto-feminist discourse
Authors: Lee, June Qian Ying
Keywords: DRNTU::Humanities::Literature::English
Issue Date: 2014
Abstract: It was certainly not easy to be a woman in eighteenth-century England. Women were “disadvantaged because they were born into an overtly patriarchal society”, where men had “political and social dominance. . .over women and children” (Eales 4). Patriarchy considers women to be both physically and mentally inferior to men – woman is considered ‘the second sex’, according to twentieth-century feminist Simone de Beauvoir. As Bridget Hill states in the quote in the opening paragraph, most of the eighteenth-century English women “unquestioningly conformed” to their socially-prescribed role as the ‘perfect domestic housewife’ and accepted – or were perhaps even satisfied in – their inferior station (Hill 3). Despite the majority of women not rising up to challenge the patriarchal hegemony, there existed courageous nonconformists – women disgruntled with and critical about their subservient position – who emerged to voice out their dissent against the patriarchal system and to propose various policy changes beneficial to the female sex. In her book Feminist Utopian Discourse In Eighteenth-Century Chinese and English Fiction: A Cross-Cultural Comparison, Qian Ma notes that “[w]hile the larger social environment remained unfavorable to women, the eighteenth century was also a period of feminine, if not feminist, awakening”, where proto-feminist figures like Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft “were bold enough to utter their dissatisfaction with, criticism of, and protest against the long-established assumptions of the patriarchal society in which they lived” (Ma 19). Sarah Robinson Scott, sister of the then popular literary critic Elizabeth Robinson Montagu, had been one of those women who were discontented with the inferiority of women’s position in eighteenth-century England. She had, however, lived a rather low-profile life and was not well-known publicly for her opposition to patriarchal authority. Her voice of dissent, though, is recognizable through her novel Millenium Hall, where readers are able to sense her dissatisfaction with patriarchy’s positional repression of women as the second sex. She creates within Millenium Hall a world of female utopia, where women take up conventional masculine roles by being leaders and stewards, whilst at the same time proving themselves not only capable, but perhaps even more so than men. The utopian world that Scott creates has a twofold significance; she is, firstly, declaring that women can be as capable as men, if not more so than them, and secondly, critiquing patriarchy’s positional repression of women as the “fair sex” and the “weaker sex” (Ma 18). In this essay, I attempt to make prominent Scott’s contribution to the proto-feminist discourse by arguing that even though Sarah Scott is not popularly hailed as a proto-feminist in eighteenth-century England, it is apparent in Millenium Hall that she, though not as well known today as she should be, is indeed one of the harbingers of feminism; she empowered women and elevated their position in the English society by giving women agency and showing that they are not, in any aspect, inferior to men.
Schools: School of Humanities and Social Sciences 
Rights: Nanyang Technological University
Fulltext Permission: restricted
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:HSS Student Reports (FYP/IA/PA/PI)

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